This gloriously uplifting, crisply paced and bright musical is a triumph that bounces with vim and energy.
Christchurch theatre company Showbiz’s production of hit Broadway musical Hairspray is sweet without being sickly and righteous without being worthy.
The show, adapted from the 1988 John Waters film, is set in early 1960s Baltimore and tells the story of Tracy Turnblad, a young woman with dreams of appearing on the local television pop programme The Corny Collins Show. When she is rejected for not fitting in with the channel’s “white bread” conformist image, she is introduced to her city’s African American community and starts a campaign to racially integrate The Corny Collins Show.
This is Showbiz’s fourth major production since its return in April last year from an earthquake-induced hiatus. And it is their best show since the comeback.
Hairspray is a brightly coloured confection that pulls in songs inspired by Phil Spector’s early 1960s bubble gum pop, rhythm and blues, Motown and even a bit of Elvis Presley. The vocal performances are clear and powerful, with layered harmonies that lift the songs to an exhilarating level.
he production design also draws on kitsch 1950s stylings, with the jaunty angles and candy coloured sets feeling like something out of a Friz Freleng or Ren and Stimpy cartoon. The vibrant and gloriously sequinned costumes also keep this spirit alive.
But these retro references never descend into fusty nostalgia, the whole show has a bright, optimistic and contemporary energy.
This production also enjoys a very strong cast, with standout performances from Antony Saywell, cross-dressing as formidable mother figure Edna Turnblad, Lucy Porter in the lead role of her daughter Tracy Turnblad, Ailis Oliver-Kerby as her geeky friend Penny Pingleton and Lou Days as the big-voiced diva Motormouth Maybelle.
Hairspray pulls off the difficult feat of incorporating film director John Waters’ camp, kitsch and outsider aesthetic into a bright and bouncy Broadway musical. And it pulls it off with energising vigour, deftly linking a coming-of-age story with the broader national narrative of the civil rights movement in 1960s America.
If this is what a reborn Showbiz can achieve after just a year back on its feet, I look forward to what it will achieve in the future.
Driving music, spectacularly bright and beautiful costumes, high physical and vocal energy, and the nicest smelling theatre in town – Hairspray certainly made its mark last night.
Set in 1962, Baltimore, Tracy Turnblad (Lucy Porter) has the dream of dancing on The Corny Collins Show. Her mother Edna (Antony Saywell) refuses to let her because she doesn’t want her to be laughed at because of her size. But Tracy’s father Wilbur (Warwick Shillito) supports her, she skips school and wins a part on the show. Hairspray is not just about the big musical numbers but addresses important moments in history such as integration, and the 1960s Civil Rights Movement.
You know a person is absolutely made for a role when they open their mouth and magic comes out, and despite there being an entire cast on stage, they’re the only person you see. Porter was made for the role of Tracy. She’s a vivacious ball of vibrant energy, talent and fun. And Tracy’s kooky sidekick Penny (Ailis Oliver-Kerby) is also a complete joy to watch.
Shillito once again shines on the Showbiz stage in his role as Wilbur who runs the Har-De-Har Hut. Shillito’s energetic stage presence is delightful and lovable.
And then there’s Tracy’s mother… During the show, the gentleman sitting to my right kept saying to his wife, “No… that’s not a man… is it?”, and then following the show, the gentleman sitting to our left said “That wasn’t a bloke, was it?” Saywell, you make an incredibly convincing Edna. You’re dynamic, humorous, and a pleasure to watch in this role made famous by cult actor Divine in the 1988 original movie of Hairspray, and then John Travolta in the massive movie hit of 2007.
Lou Days’ return to the Showbiz Christchurch stage is a very welcome one, with her soulful maturity. Her “bucket list” role of Motormouth Maybelle had some audience members on their feet applauding following her powerhouse rendition of I Know Where I’ve Been. I can’t say I’ve seen something like that happen during a theatre performance before, and it certainly added to the impact of the show.
The set design by Harold Moot was spectacular. It was grand and colourful, and there’s a real treat during the curtain call. And how Diane Brodie manages the hundreds of costumes is a mystery, and her 26-strong team of assistants have got a lot of work on their hands. The happy, bright and beautiful costumes are enviable as the audience watches in their dark clothing.
Hairspray is on for only ten days, and it’s a show you’ll need to see more than once as there is so much happening on stage.